LONGPORT — As the final firework faded from the sky over the beach in Longport, the audience, made up of year-round residents, seasonal residents and visitors celebrated. At the same time a few dedicated individuals, were already thinking about next year’s Longport Fireworks Display.
The annual tradition of fireworks in the borough started in 1998 as part of the celebration marking Longport’s 100-year anniversary. The Historical Society was involved in getting the annual event set up and funded for a number of years. Sometime during the years of 2004-2005, funding for the fireworks display was lost and the tradition was in jeopardy of not continuing.
Unbeknownst to the majority of the community, a local family took the initiative and funded the cost for the fireworks display. While there were whispers along the waterline and banter among beachgoers as to who the family was, for a few years the majority of those watching the display each year continued to think the funding to pay for the fireworks was still in place as it had been for years.
It was not until a group of friends that spent their days together on the beach started talking and realized who may have carried the cost to keep the firework display going. After some comparing of notes on what they all heard and who they thought could be behind the good deed, the group asked George Baumgardner if he was involved in the funding of the fireworks. Despite wanting to remain somewhat anonymous, the 30-year Longport resident confirmed what the group had thought. The Baumgardner family had been funding the display for the past few years after the loss of funding. Steve O’Leary, whose family has lived on the same block in town since the 1950s, was not aware of the generosity of his friends George and Lynn Baumgardner as far as the fireworks were concerned.
It was then O’Leary decided to join Baumgardner and become active in helping fund the annual fireworks display by getting other community members to contribute as well. Both Baumgardner and O’Leary were determined to keep the tradition alive. However there was another role that needed to be filled. They knew the one constant and much needed piece to the fireworks display going off each year was the help and assistance of the city with things such as permitting, insurance, public safety etc.
That is where Longport volunteer firefighter Anthony Viccarelli comes in. Viccarelli, a 45-year veteran of the Longport Volunteer Fire Department, was approached to be the point person for the event and act as a liaison of sorts for the group. Viccarelli, who serves as president of the Fire Department, and the team thought it best to allow the Fire Company to be the central organization that would coordinate the annual firework display.
The display was originally tied into end of summer and Labor Day weekend festivities, but due to many residents affected by children leaving for college, sports and other commitments, it was decided that the fireworks display would be moved to the weekend before Labor Day. Then the date was moved again this past year to coincide with the weekend of the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships.
Baumgardner, O’Leary and Viccarelli started thinking about the 2020 Longport Fireworks Display before the appreciative applause of the crowds subsided.
So how do three people coordinate and pull off an annual tradition to the delight of an entire community? The trio answered that question in one word. Community. And they would like more community members to get involved.
The same community that enjoys the fireworks each year has become a growing force in funding the cost of the fireworks. For the past 15 years, starting with the Baumgardner family, the community has contributed to ensuring the fireworks show goes on.
Each of the three men involved coordinate elements of the planning, funding and event logistics. While they share the duties and responsibilities, each has a specific role. Baumgardner concentrates on the planning, Vaccarelli on the logistics and that leaves O’Leary to coordinate the outreach and fundraising.
O’Leary says the most surprising part of the fundraising is that most people are still under the impression that the city or the historical society or some other entity funds the fireworks display. The team hopes that when people realize the effort is truly community-based they will donate toward making the event sustainable over multiple years through ongoing year-round fundraising.
They also want to make sure that the existing year-round fundraising of the Longport Volunteer Fire Department is not affected. This would include their annual coin drop, the American Mile event or their specific appeals for support of ambulance and fire department needs. The fire company also seeks more people to join. While an interest in community-funded fireworks is welcome, it is not required to join.
In what could be described as an "Unofficial Community Public Private Partnership,” the fireworks display receives support in different forms and at many levels. All three men emphasized the ongoing efforts of the community and support of those around them including their wives, Lynn Baumgardner, Brenda Viccarelli and Lee O’Leary, in helping make the event successful. They are also thankful for the support of borough Clerk Monica Kyle in helping to promote the event to the public.
The group is grateful for all of the support it has received over the years and recognizes no matter the amount or whether those making the donations are year-round or seasonal residents, beachgoers or visitors to Longport, every dollar is appreciated and helps make the event possible.
Next year’s tentative date for the Longport Fireworks Display is Aug. 15. Those who enjoy the display are encouraged to send contributions to Longport Fire Department, 2305 Atlantic Ave., Longport NJ 08403 and to please enter the word “FIREWORKS” in the memo section on the check.
When asked why he and his family decided to fund the display when the original funding ended, Baumgardner said, “The fireworks display is a celebration of community and patriotism and it doesn’t get any better than that.”